COLUMBUS — Mount Vernon attorney Scott Pullins defended his actions on Tuesday in front of the Ohio State Supreme Court in hopes disciplinary sanctions less extreme than the indefinite suspension recommended by the disciplinary board could be applied to his seven-counts of professional misconduct case.
Pullins argued that he was unable to find “any case this court sanctioned an attorney for either frivolous conduct or discovery abuses without a finding in trial court and the appellate court first.”
When questioned by Justice Maureen O’Connor in regard to Pullins’ own recommendation of a public reprimand as a suitable sanction, Pullins admitted to signing his wife’s name on an affidavit and notarizing the signature.
“That action was certainly negligent on my part,” Pullins said. “I evaded my responsibilities as a notary public for my convenience.”
In regard to calling Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Otho Eyster “biased” and “incompetent,” Pullins said, “Those words were inexcusable and I have always admitted they were wrong.”
He followed by stating he was aware of other attorneys who were sanctioned with only a public reprimand for saying far worse statements about a judge.
The third, and final account of misconduct Pullins admits to is cause for sanction, refers to a comment he made in regard to visiting Judge Thomas Curran participating in an ex parte conversation.
“My language inferred that Judge Curran participated in an ex parte conversation was not a good description of what happened and I should be sanctioned for that misconduct,” Pullins said.
Pullins was then questioned about the 14 subpoenas he issued on a suspended case, including a subpoena used to determine the identity of Internet posters he states were making defamatory statements about him.
“I would suggest that was a mistake,” Pullins said. He also suggested that Curran testified that Pullins did make mistakes that needed to be brought to his attention but “it wasn’t an offense that required disciplinary action and it didn’t constitute an abuse of power.”
Throughout his time in front of the justices, Pullins reiterated his belief that no harm fell upon those individuals involved. This fact, he said, is the most important characteristic in defining abuse of process accusations.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell questioned Pullins on his issuance of subpoenas to the Ohio attorney general and the Ohio House of Representatives.
“This seems to be a pattern of misconduct in issuing subpoenas like that over a period of years for your own personal interests, which was one of the finds, and making false accusations about judges and prosecutors seems to be one of the problems this panel and the board found. Why would you do that?” O’Donnell asked.
Before Pullins could finish his response, O’Donnell said, “You were upset about postings on the Internet. I understand that but lashing out at the general assembly or the attorney general, this doesn’t seem to equate. We don’t want lawyers doing that kind of thing in their cases.”
Pullins said he should have issued a public records request to determine what information was sent to legislatures about him.
Michael Murman, attorney for the disciplinary council, defended the council’s recommendation of an indefinite suspension stating that Pullins’ actions of misconduct were harmful to the integrity of the judicial process.
“[Pullins] just doesn’t understand, doesn’t appreciate the harm that he caused. Thus the request for a substantial discipline for an indefinite suspension so that the court can have the benefit of the process for a petition for reinstatement so that he can, at the end of his suspension, demonstrate that he has learned something; that he does get it,” Murman said. “The evidence in this case was substantial. It was clear and convincing that he did do harm to judges, not so much to them as individuals but to the judiciary, to the whole process. This man demonstrated that he is not fit to practice law — currently not fit. He doesn’t understand that you can’t make rash accusations in pleadings about judges and believe that that is not going to cause harm to the judiciary and harm to the judicious system.”
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer addressed the “elephant in the room” in relation to Eyster serving as the current chair of the Board of Commissions of Grievances and Discipline. “Do we need to give special thought to whether or not that potentially influenced the level of discipline awarded here,” he asked Murman.
Murman stated he believed the recommendation of the board was accurate and that it “wasn’t a grudge between [Pullins] and Judge Eyster but that this was his [method of operation] — this was the way he operates.”
Despite the board’s findings of misconduct against Pullins, Murman said he believes those problems in Pullins’ style and conduct can be corrected under the board’s recommendation.
“He is rehabilitatable,” Murman said. “He is a young lawyer. He ought to be given the possibility of being reinstated but I don’t think he should be reinstated until he demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that he gets it. That can only happen through that process for petition for reinstatement. “
In his rebuttal, Pullins told the justices some of Murman’s testimony was inaccurate and not based on evidence.
Chief Justice Brown questioned Pullins stating it seemed he was trying to minimize his conduct and asked him what he has learned through this disciplinary process.
“What I’ve learned is that if I knew Judge Eyster would have reacted like this, or that his wife would have reacted like this, I would not only have not done these actions — I would have never opened my law office in Knox County,” Pullins said.
He later clarified his statement by saying his conduct was in reaction to a judge who was “unreasonably angry with me.”
The justices will now take Tuesday’s testimony into consideration and a final ruling on the disciplinary actions against Pullins will be released in three to six months, according to Brett Crow, spokesperson for the Ohio Supreme Court.